Ethical Roles in Epictetus
by Brian Earl Johnson
In: Epoché: A Journal for the History of Philosophy 16 (2):287-316 (2012)
Epictetus holds that agents can determine what is appropriate relative to their roles in life. There has been only piecemeal work on this subject. Moreover, current scholarship on Epictetus’s role theory often employs Cicero’s narrow and highly schematic role theory as a template for reconstructing Epictetus’s theory. I argue against that approach and show that Epictetus’s theory is more open-ended and is best presented as a set of criteria that agents must reflect upon in order to discover their many roles: their capacities, their social relations, their wishes, and even divine signs. Epictetus in Ancient Greek and Roman Philosophy.
This is an interesting read, but it’s behind a paywall, so no link.
Check your local university or inter-library loan for a copy.
About this time last year, I packed up my earthly belongings and hauled them about 1300 miles across the country. In that moving, my Seneca reading plan fell by the wayside. I’ll be picking it back up from where I left off, in week 27 of the reading plan.
So, those sorts of posts may become more frequent.
In a side note, I’m also doing some more reading on Stoic ἄσκησις, so expect some thoughts and posts in that vein.
This short excerpt comes from a book titled, “Askesis: Notes on Epictetus’ Educational System,” (Hijmans, B. L.).
It touches on a variety of topics, and this particular bit touches Stoic theology. I’ve worked through it once “quickly,” it relies heavily on primary sources, often not in translation, with the occasional German, French, and Latin thrown in for good measure.
I’m going to need to sit down and spend some serious time with this before my thoughts are finalized, but initial impressions are high favorable. The book is exceedingly well-researched.
Now, on to Stoic Theology…
Whenever we discuss the God of the Stoics, Zeus, Providence, or any other word for this concept in Stoicism, there is often an immediate knee-jerk like reaction from many that prompts them to argue against the Abrahamic God. This short paragraph should lay that particular point to rest, and begin to show how the piety of Epictetus is based in gratitude for reason. Specifically λόγος ὀρθός, or “right reason,” and the prohairesis.
I’ve been wrangling with the conception of Stoic theology and piety for some time, and I think can begin with gratitude and an appreciation for natural beauty. I’ll keep you updated on how that goes.
Some things are in our control and others not. Things in our control are opinion, pursuit, desire, aversion, and, in a word, whatever are our own actions. Things not in our control are body, property, reputation, command, and, in one word, whatever are not our own actions.
In Enchiridion 1, Epictetus through Arrian discusses which things are “up to us,” (ἐφ᾽ ἡμῖν). He does not provide a definition, although we can use the short hand and definitive prohairetic things. Instead, Epictetus gives us a list of examples, whereby we can infer the general rule or type of things he’s discussing.
He ends this list, which I interpret not to be a closed class, with what’s often translated as “whatever are our own actions/works.” Oftentimes, this word ἔργα (erga) is translated as actions, works, deeds, etc. A literal reading is often “works.”
It is not the person who eagerly listens to and makes notes of what is
spoken by the philosophers who is ready for philosophizing, but the
person who is ready to transfer the prescriptions of philosophy to his
deeds (erga) and to live in accord with them.
— Arius Didymus
I came across another interesting translation which uses “whatever we bring about.” That’s an interesting take, probably closer to the spirit of the passage in Ench.1. As Stoics, we’re more concerned with the intent of a thing than its results in the world. We’re more concerned about how we handle judgments and impressions than how the results of those go out from us. “Whatever we bring about” then encompasses these internal things, our actual focus, better than do the English words “works,” “actions,” or “deeds.”
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